By: Gone Batty Cosplay
As a cat lover I had to pick up this manga just based on the cover and the brief blurb on the Viz app.
We start off being introduced to Jiro, our teenage protagonist who is an odd combination of Naruto and Dr. Doolittle. He can both chat with the local critters and perform ninja techniques such as utsusemi (this gave me flashbacks to Final Fantasy XI). One day Jiro happens upon an injured black cat. He brings the cat home, as all good cat lovers would, to nurse him back to health.
Once the cat awakens he’s shocked to find a human speaking to him and who can understand a cat’s replies. And so as any smart cat would he promptly hides under Jiro’s bed.
After warming up a bit the cat indignantly declares “I am not a cat!!” and introduces himself as Rago, an immoral mononoke. Rago attempts to sneak off to spare Jiro trouble but is inevitably tailed by the meddling teenager. The pair encounters an aggressive mononoke who is after Rago, and Jiro manages to get himself impailed.
His savior dead, Rago decides to return the favor Jiro paid him by fusing with him to heal his wound and bring him back to life. And so the mononoke gets his ass royally handed to him.
A manga protagonist’s troubles are never over, though, and no sooner than he’s won one fight he’s taken into custody by the suddenly introduced Bureau of Espionage. Fortunately for Jiro the Bureau takes him to their hospital for his turn to be nursed to health. While in the hospital he’s given a run down on the Bureau’s history as the modern incarnation of the Oniwabanshu; fans of Kenshin will remember this organization as a group of spies/ninjas.
Jiro escapes to say his goodbyes to his grandfather, as the Bureau of Espionage has informed him that he’s now under their protection, aka never going home again. Grandfather is of course furious that Jiro has been possessed by a mononoke and attempts to kill him. However, through battle Jiro is able to convince his grandfather of his conviction and narrowly escape death once again.
Freedom is short lived for Jiro and he finds himself in the Bureau’s custody yet again, this time being transported and guarded by our leading lady Ichika. As the two butt heads on their journey they find their truck ambushed by two new mononoke. Ichika struggles in her two on one battle and eventually releases Jiro who turns the tide of battle and secures their victory.
The volume wraps up with our resident string puller Ryosuke of the Bureau of Espionage plotting a new mononoke hunting squad centered around Jiro called Black Torch.
Black Torch makes for an enjoyable read overall. I love Rago’s catly antics, and it’s obvious that the author is familiar with feline mannerisms. The pacing is good and I enjoyed myself through the whole volume. However, Black Torch is not the most original manga I’ve ever read. It follows the traditional shonen plot of a teenage protagonist going through some trauma and magically obtaining special powers. The origin of Jiro’s ability to speak to animals is mostly brushed over as something the reader should just accept and not as an oddity. And despite Ichika insisting she’s a strong woman who shouldn’t be looked down on for her gender, she still ends up being saved by Jiro in the end.
Black Torch is certainly worth picking up if you enjoy shonen manga and cats, but if you find yourself overburdened with other series to read, it’s certainly not a priority.